Texas growers may be able to produce sweet onions, but they never produce Vidalias.
"In order to be called a true Vidalia onion, it has to have been grown in southeast Georgia," said George Boyhan, an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Twenty Georgia Counties
The rights to growing Vidalia onions belong to 20 Georgia counties.
"Actually, 14 whole counties and parts of others are designated as the Vidalia onion growing region," Boyhan said. "Toombs and Tattnall counties are the heart of Vidalia onion country."
Boyhan said the onion variety known in the United States as Vidalia actually originated in the Mediterranean.
"But Georgia is the perfect place to grow it," he said. "It needs lots of water, and we sit on top of the Floridan aquifer. It needs mild winters, and we have them. It needs sandy soils with low sulfur content. And south Georgia's sandy soils are perfect."
Boyhan said growers actually have to add sulfur to the soil when growing Vidalias.
Drought Affects Vidalias' Taste
As with all Georgia crops, Vidalias have been affected by the state's drought conditions.
"The amount of water they get determines the onion's hotness and pungency," he said. "Last year, they were warmer for this reason. When we get a lot of rainfall, they are much milder."
Although Texas and other states can grow sweet onions, Boyhan said Georgia growers aren't concerned over the competition.
"Texas onions come in before Vidalias," said Boyhan. "They are usually petering out when Vidalias hit the market in April."
Unlike the days when Vidalias were the only sweet onions on the market, today there is much more competition.
"They used to be a specialty product, but now you can get sweet onions year-round," Boyhan said. "In addition to Texas, we now get sweet onions from South America."
But Georgia growers still hold the rights to the name Vidalia.
"If the bag says Vidalia on it, they have to have been grown in Georgia," Boyhan said. "Just ask Del Monte. Some of their Peruvian onions were mistakenly labeled Vidalia, and they had to pay a stiff fine."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)